A Miniature Great Wall

….or so it seems.

I’m a sucker for the photography technique called “tilt-shift,” in which the subject of a photo or film appears to be in miniature.

The YouTube Channel Little Big World has several tilt-shift videos on China, including this one called “Little Big Wall of China.”

(email readers, click here to watch the video on YouTube)

Anyone who has visited me in China will recognize this section of the Great Wall at Mutianyu. The only thing missing in the clip, however, is the ride down on the alpine slide!

Oh, and why the filmmaker chose “Stars and Stripes Forever” is beyond me!

The Rabbit Has Landed

You have probably heard by now that on Monday China successfully dropped a landing craft on the moon. After the Chang’e 3 landed, it deployed a lunar rover named Jade Rabbit (Yutu) which will poke around for a few months.

As you can imagine, the Chinese are very proud of this, and the official media have spared no effort in covering the story as a sign of China’s growing technological and political prowess. I am half expecting for some media outlet to track down a historian who will declare that “it is a well known fact” that the moon has been a part of China since at least the Han Dynasty. When that happens, remember that you heard it first here.

Chinese cartoonists have gotten in on the act as well, offering their take on the event. The site Shanghaiist has compiled some of the cartoons floating around. My personal favorite is this one (After the Jade Rabbit Landed):



And congratulations, China!

Laugh Often

I spotted this slogan painted on a construction wall in the Wudaokou neighborhood of Beijing last summer. Let’s make it the motto for our week, shall we?

laugh often

{translation of Chinese characters: Love Wudaokou}

Left-over Mao Statues

In a post titled Last Mao Standing (March 2012), I put up a couple of pictures of the Mao statue in Chengdu, and wrote this about Mao statues in China:

There was a time when statues of Mao were ubiquitous, found on every college and factory campus, every government building, and every public square. In most cities they have disappeared from view, and only on occasion can one be spotted tucked away. There are only a few cities where he is still visible in public spaces.

The Chinese website Sina recently published photos of a few of the remaining statues scattered around China. Here are some of the more interesting ones:








I can’t help wondering what Mao would think if he saw China today.

Click here to see all 36 photos.

The Many Countries of China



Over the Thanksgiving holiday I read China Airborne, by James Fallows. It’s a look at modern China through the lens of the country’s growing aviation industry.

In the introduction, Fallows writes about what he calls “the many countries of China,” (p. 6), explaining the diversity and complexity of a country that we tend to (wrongly) view as a monolith.

Here’s what he says:

“Now a word about the territory we would see from above. The main surprise of living in China, as opposed to reading or hearing about it, is how much it is a loose assemblage of organizations and aspects and subcultures, an infinity of self-enclosed activities, rather than a “country” in the normal sense. The plainest fact about modern China for most people on the scene often seems the hardest to grasp from afar. That is simply how varied, diverse, contradictory, and quickly changing conditions within the country are. Any large country is diverse and contradictory, but China’s variations are of a scale demanding special note.


What is true in one province is false in the next. What was the experience last week is the rule today. A policy that is applied strictly in Beijing may be ignored or completely unknown in Kunming or Changsha. Millions of Chinese people are now very rich and hundreds of millions are still very poor. Their country is a success and a failure, an opportunity and a threat, an inspiring model to the world and a nightmarish cautionary example. It is tightly controlled and it is out of control; it is futuristic and it is backward; its system is both robust and shaky. Its leaders are skillful and clumsy, supple and stubborn, visionary and foolishly shortsighted.” (p. 6)

He talks about the times when China does seem to function as a cohesive whole (the Olympics, international crises), but then continues on with the theme at hand:

“But most of the time, visitors — and Chinese people too — see vividly and exclusively the little patch of “China” that is in front of them, with only a guess as to how representative it might be of happenings anywhere else. You can develop a feel for a city, a company, a party boss, an opportunity, a problem — and then see its opposite as soon as you go to another town.


Such observations may sound banal — China, land of contrasts! — but I have come to think that really absorbing them is one of the greatest challenges for the outside world in reckoning with China and its rise. A constant awareness of the variety and contradictions within China does not mean suspending critical judgments or failing to observe trends that prevail in most of the country most of the time. For instance, it really is true that for most Chinese families, life is both richer and freer than it was in the 1980’s, and it is immeasurably better on both counts than it was in the 1960’s. It is also true that in most of the country, air and water pollution are so dire as to constitute not simply a major threat to public health but also a serious impediment to China’s continues prospects for economic growth. So some overall statements about “China” and “the Chinese” are fair. But because of the country’s scale, because of the linguistic and cultural barriers that can make it seem inaccessible, and because of the Chinese government’s efforts to project the image of a seamlessly unified nation, outsiders are tempted to overlook the rifts, variation, and chaos, and talk about Chinese activities as if they were one coordinated whole. Therefore it is worth building in reminders of how many varied and often conflicting Chinas there really are.” (p.8)

Or, as I would put it, “In China, Nothing is as it Seem!”

Reading Up on South Africa

With the passing of Nelson Mandela this week, I thought it would be a good time read up on South Africa.

I  ordered Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Made a Nation, the story of how rugby brought healing to a nation. I look forward to digging into it.

playing the enemy





For those wondering where to start, I’ve compiled a short list of books and movies about South Africa. I’m sure there are many more (and perhaps better) items, but I wanted to confine my list to things I have actually read or seen.


Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton 

This novel, which has become a classic, details the racial tensions in South Africa in the 1940’s. Extremely powerful.

cry the beloved country





The Covenant, by James Michener

Another great Michener novel, set against the backdrop of the birth and rise of South Africa. I think I am going to re-read this.

the covenant





The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild, by Lawrence Anthony

I picked this book put at the Cape Town airport a few years back, and didn’t put it down for the entire 12-hour flight to Dubai. It is about a conservationist who agrees to take in a herd of “rogue” elephants. The story of how he tames them and builds a relationship with them is amazing.

elephant whisperer






Cry, the Beloved Country (based on the book)

cry the beloved country movie





Cry Freedom

This movie is about black activist Steve Biko and a liberal white newspaper reporter who was instrumental in telling Biko’s story to the world. (Based on a book by the same name)

cry freedom movie





And finally, I found this article by Ed Stetzer on his Christianity Today blog, to be very helpful: Nelson Mandela Has Died: Some history, thoughts, and reaction from South African pastors. In fact it inspired me to write this post.

What have I missed? What are your favorite resources on South Africa and Nelson Mandela?


East and West in Pictures

Last week I spoke to a group of Honors Students at the University of Northwestern – St. Paul. The topic was “Social, Cultural, and Spiritual Issues in China and Implications for Teaching.”

To get things going I showed them these fantastic graphic representations of cultural differences between east and west. I’ve actually used them in cross-cultural training for years, but am just now getting around to posting about them. Whether the audience is western or Chinese, they always generate lots of interesting discussion. (blue – west, red = east)

They were done by a Chinese artist who has lived and worked in Germany for many years. You can read an interview with her here.

Giving an Opinion

Giving an Opinion


Handling Problems

Handling Problems


Daily Life

Daily Life


The Family

The Family


Daily Life for the Elderly

Daily Life for the Elderly


At a Party

At a Party


Waiting in Line

Waiting in Line


The Boss

The Boss


Social Connections

Social Connections




Dancing Traffic Cops

Did you know that December 2 was National Traffic Safety Day in China? Given that China has the world’s deadliest roads (70,000 deaths per year), I suppose it’s not such a bad idea.

China doesn’t have too few traffic laws; rather it has too few enforcement mechanisms. Couple that with the fact that many (most?) drivers are rookies who didn’t grow riding in a car, and you have a recipe for the chaos that is Chinese traffic.

This year, a group of traffic cops in Guangdong Province did their part to promote traffic safety awareness by producing a music video. Here’s what That’s Online has to say about it:

The dancing Qinghuangdao firefighters are officially yesterday’s news. Traffic police of Guangdong province have produced a video of them dancing (and rapping) to K-Poppers Crayon Pop’s ‘Bar Bar Bar.’


The video, apparently officially sanctioned and funded, aims to raise awareness of traffic safety and the 122 phone number for traffic police. It includes a rap section about road safety, in Chinese, what more do you need?

(Email readers: if you cannot see the embedded video, click here to watch it on YouTube.)

Too fun for words!